On May 15, 1916, a frenzied crowd of white Waco citizens surged into the 54th District Court and seized Jesse Washington. Moments earlier, a jury had convicted the seventeen-year-old African American male of murdering a white Robinson woman, Lucy Fryer. The mob, convinced that Washington had also raped Fryer, tortured, hanged, burned him alive and then dragged his mutilated corpse through town. A huge crowd of spectators (15,000 by some estimates) looked on with glee, while storied local photographer, Fred Gildersleeve, recorded the event in gruesome detail.

We note that the brutal murder of Mrs. Fryer was a tragic event for her family, and we are mindful that the slaying lingers as a painful legacy for her descendants.

Washington had confessed to the crime. The prosecution presented evidence. After four minutes of deliberation, seven days after his arrest, the jury of twelve white men found him guilty and sentenced him to death.

Notwithstanding, based on the trial record and what we know about justice for African Americans in the Jim-Crow South, we cannot make a conclusive finding of guilt or innocence in this 90-year-old case.

Wholly apart from that unanswerable question, clearly the community of Waco, Texas, grievously violated Jesse Washington's fundamental rights to due process under the Constitution of the United States. The preemptive actions of the mob, and their exhorters, clearly deprived an American citizen of his right to appeal to a higher court and short-circuited the legal process. The events of May 15, 1916 sting with inequity and disgrace.

Even worse, we know that the grotesque inhumanity of the Washington lynching was emblematic of a period in which our community regularly denied our African American neighbors basic human rights. The "Waco Horror," as it came to be known to the world, was not an isolated case; egregious abuses and humiliations were far too prevalent in Central Texas and throughout the South during our long, dark period of racial segregation and mistreatment.

Inarguably, we are the product of our collective past. We are a people, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “connected by the mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart” and home in our community. We do well to celebrate the blessings we inherited from our ancestors, who lived in a time that we cannot fully comprehend.

However, we do ourselves a grave disservice when we attempt to evade or ignore the less than heroic chapters in our history. Wacoans of 1916 committed a gross act of barbarity. As a result of that heinous act, and many others, present Waco inherited a history laden with exploitation and mined with racial mistrust.

The present-day community of Waco, Texas, and McLennan County profoundly regrets and fervently renounces the Jesse Washington atrocity. Our community extends our deepest sympathies to the myriad victims of those tragically dehumanizing times. While we cannot change the past, we find it absolutely necessary to confront and condemn our reprehensible heritage of racial inequality and brutality.

We also believe that it is appropriate for us to extend forgiveness to our ancestral community.

We forgive those who have failed us, just as we seek forgiveness for our failures. We come together, preserving a painful communal memory, in order to commit ourselves to justice. Learning from our past and calling upon the better angels of our nature, we dedicate ourselves to fostering a community at peace with itself.